“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” – James Arthur Baldwin
“Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?” sang my five year old son.
“Mom did!” responded by oldest son.
“Who me?” I responded with a chuckle
“Yes, YOU!” they bellowed with their fingers pointed towards me.
“Couldn’t be!” I sang
“Then who?” the boys demanded.
I was reminded of this song this morning during a discussion with a friend. I was recollecting the feeling I had over the weekend of a child missing. I told my friend that this feeling can be overwhelming and crippling at times and send me into a full fledged panic attack. I also informed my friend that my assumption, to date, is that the feeling is rooted in the absence of my daughter from family functions.
My friend disagreed.
He proposed that the person that was missing at those times was not my daughter but some aspect of me.
This suggestion ran contrary to everything I have held dear and believed in the past twenty years since I lost my daughter. Suggesting that what I was missing was a part of myself rather than my daughter angered me. It made me feel disloyal, or selfish, or something.
No. I insisted. It’s my daughter I am missing. I can feel her presence on a regular basis. I look for her. I worry about her. I expect her to be there.
My friend did not doubt that. But he requested I consider his suggestion just for a moment. He further suggested it may be a projection and that in doing so, I am placing far too much happiness weight on my daughters shoulders.
Losing my daughter in the manner in which I did, caused a split in my personality. I was forced to be the person others wanted me to be. I was not a single unwed young mother but a good smart catholic girl with “options” and a “full life” ahead of her that “loved her child enough to give her a better life”. The translation of that, for my soul, is that I was a bad girl, that was going to rot in hell and that my child was better of without me.
I put on that mask they asked me to wear and I did it with fervor. I pursued the right jobs, the right material wealth, the right friends, the vacations and such. I married well, I had more children. I lived up to everyone’s expectations – but my own. Outside I appeared happily married, surrounded by all the things one could want. Inside I was rotting. I was dying a slow self inflicted death.
For beneath that plastic mask of success was the real me. The mother without her child, the woman who did not want to play bunco with the mothers in the development but wanted to go get another tattoo and the mother who was raging over the loss of a child that no one acknowledged but her. Beneath the mask was a frightened seventeen year old girl that felt abandoned by all that should have supported her. I forced her to cower in the corner when the mask was on.
I had to. That girl was not acceptable. The masked girl was.
I accepted that split. I allowed it. I even fed it regularly. Two helpings of fake stew for the masked me, one helping of real stew for the real me. I hid her well. I snuck off to our home office and she and I played on internet adoption support groups. I kept secret unwed mother and adoption traumatized friends tucked away from my husband and family. They wouldn’t approve you know. Those types of friends weren’t part of the plastic package. I secretly searched for my daughter even while others told me that was a crime and against the “rules”. I would "mess up" her life by finding her. (Again, more reinforcement of how socially unacceptable I was.)
In recent years, particularly since finding my daughter and allowing myself to work towards recovery, I have come to cherish and accept that pierced, tattooed, crazy hair colored girl. Yes, she is a mother, yes, she is intelligent and successful and you know what?
She doesn’t wear that mask anymore.
So that missing person at the party? Maybe that was indeed some aspect of me? Maybe that was the real me that I did not invite?
Or better yet? Maybe it was the old masked me that has finally left the building?